A military raid in south Colombia has revealed the extent of the FARC’s oil theft operations in the region, which provide the guerrillas with a key precursor required for cocaine production. But the military’s math on how much oil the rebels have seems flawed.
Members of a military anti-narcotics brigade discovered six homemade oil refineries and over 63,000 gallons of crude oil at the site in the department of Nariño, reported El Colombiano. They also said they found facilities for processing coca paste and cocaine hydrochloride, as well as a seed nursery with 35,000 coca plants.
The oil, which was siphoned from the Ecopetrol Trasandino pipeline, was used by the guerrillas in cocaine processing, according to the military.
Authorities estimate oil theft in the region is worth over $800,000 a year to the guerrillas.
According to the government investigators, the rudimentary refinement process employed by the FARC has led to contamination of the water supplies in the area, causing health problems to locals.
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The authorities have discovered over 30 homemade oil refineries so far this year, and 60 in 2012, according to El Tiempo, highlighting the scale and sophistication of oil theft in Colombia.
However, 63,000 gallons appears to be an exaggeration. That amount of oil would require the guerrillas to have close to 1,500 barrels of oil under their purview (at the US standard of 42 gallons per barrel), an enormous operation for an organization that currently does not employ fighting units that number more than 12 men.
Still, oil infrastructure has long been a target of Colombia’s guerrilla groups, who not only steal oil for their own use, but extort oil companies, and attack infrastructure for ideological and military purposes.
The guerrillas are not alone in targeting the oil sector. There is a long history of paramilitary groups also stealing oil and demanding protection money from companies, a tradition carried on today by the groups labeled BACRIM (a Spanish acronym derive from the words “criminal bands”). These organizations, in particular the Rastrojos, are known to steal oil both for use in cocaine production and for sale on the blackmarket.
Elsewhere in the region, organized crime groups in Mexico are increasingly involved in the trade, while in Venezuela and Bolivia fuel theft and smuggling costs those governments millions of dollars every year.